I attended the University of X. I was male but noticed a type of personal harassment from the advisor that started immediately upon enrolling. For me it came about because I had previously attended a different institution and was ABD before I left. His form of harassment came about in “oh we are tough and we will straighten you out”. His “advising” meeting consisted of his inviting students to a local bar. There was nothing academic going on at those events. One time he had his arm around a female graduate students neck and was asking her “which graduate students are dating each other”. Another time he was joking with another female graduate student about sexual intercourse. I decided to leave the program after a few months of that nonsense and never looked back.
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What I am describing is something that happened about 10 years ago. I was a master student then. My department at the time was hiring, and they whittled down the shortlist to four candidates. Each candidate was to present a paper to the general public (in reality only the department members and interested students would attend). They then would make the final decision of hiring with that presentation in mind. I only attended this particular female philosopher’s presentation because I was interested in the topic, and did not attend anyone else’s.
I do not remember much about the content of the paper, but I remember *vividly* the reception of the paper. It was absolutely hostile. Right off the bat the first question was very critical, and there was no relent. There was no woman department member present, as far as I can remember.
Reviewing this incident 10 years on, with zero memory of the content of the paper, there are only two conclusions that can be drawn: 1) the paper was crap, and she deservedly got the criticisms. 2) the paper was not crap, but the implicit assumptions about women kick in. They found faults in every little details.
Scenario #2 would be a simple case of sexism, but sometimes I think it is less sinister than just some old geezers thinking “women can’t do X”. They shortlisted her. And that particular female philosopher at the time was holding down a tenure in another part of the country. So obviously they thought she could do the job. Sometimes it could be just a combination of old habits die hard and a bad case of bandwagoning. Or maybe there was just some other internal department politics that had nothing to do with gender or that particular philosopher.
I am not providing excuse for the aggressors, I am just saying the cause of that particular ill treatment may be more complicated than a simple case of sexism (if there is ever such a thing as a “simple” case). At the time, of course, I had zero intent on digging deeper…
As to scenario #1, as we all know, academic Anglo-American philosophy is extremely adversarial, it could well happen to anyone regardless of gender. That doesn’t make it ok IMO, because the person they were criticizing had one in four chance of being their colleague. It was not the best way to showcase the social dynamics of the department! The extreme adversarial nature also needs to change IMO. It just ended up like workplace bullying, and nothing more. This aspect is still stubbornly the same 10 years on.
In the end, obviously the female philosopher didn’t get the job. The funny/good thing is, she ended up doing reasonably well in terms of publications 10 years on. The one that got away may not be the one after all.
Final disclaimer: I have been drifting away from academic philosophy for the past 10 years, but now decide to finally come back. Life experiences outside academia have done nothing but improve my perspectives.
In my master’s program in philosophy, a male student asked our male professor why we weren’t discussing female philosophers to which he answered that women philosophers didn’t contribute enough material to warrant study. He also said that they (women philosophers) did not write metanarratives and therefore were not substantive to the philosophical debate. My face turned red and I wanted to say something but I remained silent. I told our librarian what I’d heard and she pulled up a database that featured women philosophers which inspired me. I then contacted said philosophy professor and told him of my findings. He scolded me and said I should never mention that he said there was a dearth of female philosophers. He then proceeded to treat me poorly in every class I had with him. I feared I would not graduate (although fortunately I did). If I had it to do over again, I would have created a committee of others to address the situation to avoid being persecuted.
I am currently an MA student in Philosophy at a university that has just hired their first ever female associate professor. But before I get all gooey over that fact – and the fact that she’s teaching a course next semester, where there are actually female philosophers on the reading list – I will do a reality check and sum up a very small fraction of the various experiences I have had as a philosophy student.
During a discussion with a male associated professor, I was told that feminism is fascism. Of course, this was annoying but also hilarious, as he obviously felt the need to resort to crap like that instead of engaging in a purposeful discussion, exposing his own ignorance on the subject matter.
Those were some examples from my time as a BA-student, there are many more, but it would take days to write them down and relay the contexts etc.
During my masters, I’ve been told to ”tone down the feminism” when doing mandatory evaluations of papers with other (male) students. Of course I refused – to put it politely – resulting in a hefty slurring of functionalist claims about the (binary) sexes and a pretty blatant belief in gender-stereotypes. You know the drill. I have also been lectured by male students several times on how I am not ”doing” philosophy properly. I have only just completed the first semester of my MA, but I can already see it will be a glorious couple of years. I might end up being a master of fists as well as a master of arts in philosophy.
I went to grad. school for philosophy in the 90s, as an older, returning to school woman. That was even worse. Male colleagues explicitly excluded me from study groups, claiming that I would hold them back! (They had no way to know this.) Other students refused to work or study with me. I was given the least desirable assisting assignments that conflicted with the courses I came to the school to study, and my main professor/advisor behaved inappropriately on multiple levels.
When I asked my advisor what my secondary field should be, for positioning myself on the job market, he said it didn’t matter — I wouldn’t be able to get a job, anyway. With support like that, who needs enemies?
I kept thinking if I worked harder, I could overcome all of it. Only now, many years later, do I see that there was really nothing I could have done, alone, to “out-work” the situation. It was unbearably hostile and obnoxious. Thankfully, I have been out of there for years, and don’t treat my students like this. Sadly, my career is nowhere near where I would have liked it to be.
How to Avoid Hiring a Feminist Philosopher: Some Helpful Tips
1. Never read any feminist philosophy so that you are not familiar with the journals in which feminist philosophers publish and then make it a necessary condition of your putting someone on the finalist list that you are familiar with the journals in which they publish.
2. Disqualify the feminists on the ground that their work is subpar. This will be tricky if also want to use the tactic described in 1. For if you use that tactic, you will reveal (by claiming that you are not familiar with any of the journals in which they publish) that you do not know the literature they are engaging and hence are not in a good position to evaluate their work.
3. Disqualify the feminists on the ground that they are a “poor fit” and “will not have anyone to talk to” in your department about their work. This can be tricky for two reasons. First, you might have trouble using this tactic if you use tactic 1. The reason is that if you are competent to evaluate their work for the purposes of rejecting them as finalists, then you qualify as someone who could talk to them about their work in a way that is useful to them. And if this so, your claim that “they will have no one to talk to” actually expresses a refusal on your part to talk to them.
The second tricky thing about this tactic is that there might be people in the meeting who work on feminism. This makes the “lack of fit” argument difficult to make. The problem is that if you are making the “lack of fit” case because you are ignorant of the fact that some of your colleagues work on feminism, then you are not informed enough about your colleagues’ research programs to make proclamations about the potential fit of job candidates. If you do know that your colleagues work on feminism, and you insist nonetheless that there is a “lack of fit,” then you reveal that you either 1) are coining a normative term of art (“lack of fit” means “works on something I find worthless”) or 2) believe that your colleagues who work on feminism are not worth talking to.
4. Disqualify candidates according to the lack of frequency with which the publish in “the top five generalist journals.” Here you will have to ignore the fact (which is admittedly hard to miss if you read said journals) that said journals rarely if ever publish in feminism. Also, you must ignore the fact that your criterion might be suspect due to the fact that these journals have been found to disproportionately publish male philosophers (and that some of them fail to use a fully anonymous review process—see “implicit bias” in 5 below.) Unfortunately, you will also have to avoid the entire philosophy-relevant blogosphere wherein this problem, and others, such as the low citation rates of women in these journals, has been widely discussed.
Be aware that this tactic for disqualifying candidates can get you into trouble in at least two ways. First, it is likely that some of the candidates that you want to be on the finalist list—friends, people who “seem smart”—will score poorly according to this criterion. So, be sure to talk about the “scores” of only those you wish to keep off of the list. If someone notices that some candidates that you favor score poorly in this regard, point out that those candidates, nevertheless, publish in the top journals in their field. If the person challenging you points out the feminist philosophers whom you want to keep off the list also publish in the top journals in their field, try reverting to 1 above.
Another issue is the research profiles of your colleagues who are present in the hiring meeting. Some of them will work in areas other than feminism, which rarely appear in the “top five generalist journals” (e.g., applied ethics, applied social philosophy, continental philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, experimental philosophy, environmental philosophy, philosophy of medicine, philosophy of music and philosophy of film, to name a few). They might find your criterion of little value. You might go ahead and bring it up anyway and risk insulting them. For one, they might value collegiality so much that they won’t call you on this in the meeting. Or, they might just sit in stunned silence not knowing how to respond. Or, alternatively, they might inexplicably support the values of those who occupy the center, not minding at all that those are the very values that place them in the margin.
5. If you want to propose with a straight face that you are disqualifying a disproportionate number of women from the finalist pool (which is an effective means of removing the feminist philosophers from said pool) strictly on the basis of merit, you will have to remain ignorant of the studies on implicit bias and the extensive discussion of said studies within the profession, including sessions at professional meetings and entire conferences organized around this theme. Maintaining this ignorance will require, too, that you avoid the entire philosophy-related blogosphere. You will also have to refrain from reading the NYT and the Chronicle of Higher Education and you absolutely cannot log on to facebook if you have very many philosophy friends.
6. When you propose rejecting almost all of the women in the candidate pool, it is essential that you express regret about this. You could say, for example, that it is a shame that so few women are making it to the finalist list. Of course, what is really true is that you are choosing to keep them off of the list, producing through your own choices the happening that you are assessing from the third person point of view as “a shame.” Perhaps no one will notice that this shameful happening could be prevented by you.
At the beginning of my undergraduate degree I had a routine meeting with the undergraduate advisor for the department. When I entered his office he looked me over quite thoroughly then asked me if I really wanted to major in Philosophy or if perhaps I had made a mistake when choosing my major. My immediate thought was “he doesn’t think I belong here….is there something obvious that he can tell just by looking at me that indicates that I don’t belong here studying philosophy?” I went on to do an MA in Philosophy but that experience epitomized the remainder of my philosophical education and is the main reason I am no longer in the field.